WASHINGTON (July 27, 2007)—The plight of Iraqi refugees is dire, especially for children, and calls for increased U.S. assistance, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio said in a July 26 letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The prelates voiced concern following a mission to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria to view the situation of refugees forced to flee their war-torn nation.
"It was clear that the countries we visited are in dire need of additional support from the United States and the international community in order to provide safe haven to the almost two million Iraqi refugees in the region," they said. "Without a heightened commitment from our nation and others, we are fearful that these countries will no longer welcome and protect these refugees, particularly if the security situation in Iraq deteriorates and more Iraqis flee their homes."
The prelates highlighted "lack of sufficient funding to ensure that the basic needs of refugees and their families are being met." They noted the "need of medical care, which is not readily available."
"Children are particularly vulnerable," they said.
The bishops also urged the United States "to work even more urgently for a responsible transition to end the war in Iraq, noting that "the existence of large numbers of vulnerable refugees is a tragic and unfortunate byproduct of the war."
The letter follows.
Dear Madam Secretary:
We write to you on an urgent matter requiring your attention and that of President Bush---the plight of refugees who have fled the conflict in Iraq.
We have recently returned from a mission to the Middle East on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to look at the situation of Iraqi refugees. Our delegation, which included representatives from the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), visited Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria over a two-week period.
It was clear that the countries we visited are in dire need of additional support from the United States and the international community in order to provide safe haven to the almost two million Iraqi refugees in the region. Without a heightened commitment from our nation and others, we are fearful that these countries will no longer welcome and protect these refugees, particularly if the security situation in Iraq deteriorates and more Iraqis flee their homes.
A primary observation during our mission was the lack of sufficient funding to ensure that the basic needs of refugees and their families are being met. Many of these families have expended their savings and are now dependent upon the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), nongovernmental organizations, or the host government to survive.
These refugees also are in need of medical care, which is not readily available in some host countries. We found among those needing medical services high incidences of cancer as well as severe emotional and psychological trauma.
Children are particularly vulnerable. Many of them suffer physical and psychological ailments from the conflict. In addition, access to education for children remains a major problem. The situation of children is made worse because many are compelled to work illegally in order to support their families.
A second observation is the need for greater resettlement of Iraqi refugees to third countries. Iraqis who have worked with our government or with U.S. contractors in Iraq have been targeted and are unlikely to be able to return to Iraq in the future. Other vulnerable refugees, such as single female heads of households, the elderly, and unaccompanied children, should be considered for resettlement. Religious minorities, particularly Christians and Sabeans (Mandeans), also are targeted for persecution by extremists in Iraq.
While we were encouraged by the State Department's initial commitment to process 7,000 Iraqi refugees by the end of 2007, we are disappointed in the low number of arrivals at this point in time. After our visit, we see that even the 7,000 refugee
resettlement slots to which the United States has committed is insufficient to meet the need. We urge you to do all that you can to ensure that you reach your initial processing goal of 7,000 as soon as possible and to increase significantly the number of arrivals for Fiscal Year 2008, so that these vulnerable persons find protection.
Madame Secretary, the plight of refugees from Iraq calls our nation to work even more urgently for a "responsible transition" to end the war in Iraq. The existence of large numbers of vulnerable refugees is a tragic and unfortunate byproduct of the war.
As the leader of the coalition force involved in this conflict, the United States must show leadership with regard to Iraqi refugees. Without our leadership, it is unlikely that the international community will fill the void. We urge you to bring this critical need to the attention of the president and act as soon as possible to protect these vulnerable refugees.
Thank you for your consideration of our concerns.
His Eminence Theodore Cardinal McCarrick
Archbishop Emeritus of Washington
Consultant, USCCB Committee on Migration
Board Member, Catholic Relief Services
Most Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio
Bishop of Brooklyn, New York
Consultant, USCCB Committee on Migration
Treasurer, Catholic Relief Services